A year and a half ago, I drove up through the pouring rain of San Francisco to meet Barb Stuckey for lunch at French Blue, a lovely whitewashed restaurant in the Napa Valley. A fit, fast-talking woman with a background in food science who first gained experience at Kraft, Chili’s, and Whole Foods, she has been developing foods for the food and drink innovation firm Mattson (which brought us the Frappuccino, among other trendy eats) for well over a decade. Stuckey is an expert on the physiology of taste and wrote a fascinating book several years back simply called Taste, which is the best explanation I have ever read on how our body responds when we eat something.
“We see our role as translating trends,” she told me after ordering a kale salad. “We are putting ideas in front of consumers that are both appropriate and challenging. We’re here to test that line.” When a company comes to Mattson with a need — “We want a drink for the urban market” or “we need a new sandwich that’ll appeal to teenagers” — Stuckey will compile the market research and begin looking into related trends in that space. Five times a month she will organize on-the-ground eating tours for her clients so they can experience those trends “the way they’re meant to be experienced.”
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